Dick LeBeau Has Both A Big Nickel & Dime To Spare In 2012

With more and more offenses starting to use the hybrid tight ends like the New England Patriots use Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, defenses will be eaten alive if they do not match up with hybrid type defenses. The buzz words you will hear more and more this year, as far as defenses go, is “Big Nickel”.

Pat Kirwan of SiriusXM NFL Radio recently wrote about the “Big Nickel” and noted the teams he thought had the personnel to use it. One of those teams he listed was the Pittsburgh Steelers and it should come as no surprise as the Steelers used it last year in their win over the Patriots. We saw glimpses of it since that game and we will likely see even more of it in this upcoming season.

To recap, the “Big Nickel” utilizes three safeties, one of which usually plays down in the box and matches up against a flexed out tight end or stays in tighter if the formation is condensed to help play the run. Kirwan asked several defensive coaches about the three safety defense and the response he got was, “You gotta have the right kind of hybrid safety to do it right.” The “Big Nickel” safety has to be able to play as a linebacker when the offense condenses the set, and of course, he has to match up on a flexed tight end when they spread out the formation.

The right kind of hybrid safety the Steelers used last season in the “Big Nickel” was of course Troy Polamalu. He played that role when the Steelers brought Ryan Mundy into the game as an extra safety when an extra cornerback was also brought into the game. This of course meant the nose tackle came off the field as well as a linebacker.

What is interesting about the game against the Patriots last season is that the Steelers defense was incredibly stretched thin in that game at linebacker. James Farrior and James Harrison did not play due to injuries and Jason Worilds was inactive for that game as well with an injury. Both Larry Foote and Stevenson Sylvester started inside and Lawrence Timmons continued to have to play outside in place of Harrison. If that was not enough, the Steelers also lost LaMarr Woodley in that game when he suffered his hamstring injury. At one point later in the game the “Big Nickel” defense featured Timmons, Foote and rookie Chris Carter at linebacker. Not the ideal personnel for the package, but it worked nonetheless.

Not only did the defense use the “Big Nickel” in that game, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau also used the “Dime” as well with rookie Cortez Allen serving as a fourth cornerback on the field alongside Ike Taylor, William Gay and Keenan Lewis. While Patriots quarterback Tom Brady still finished the game with a 101.8 quarterback rating (a stat that gets more useless by the year), he was also held to under 200 yards passing and the Patriots offense gained just 241 yards in total. Gronkowski had 94 yards of that offense, but superstar wide receiver Wes Welker was held to just 39 yards receiving thanks mostly to Taylor banging him around quite a bit in man coverage.

While the Steelers defense will not have to employ the “Big Nickel” or “Dime” every week in 2012, you can bet that they will at some point. They also figure to do so with Timmons back inside where he belongs and a healthy Harrison and Woodley outside. While Polamalu will likely continue to be that hybrid type safety to come up and play in the box, you have to wonder if maybe rookie linebacker Sean Spence might be able to fill that same role later on in the season to help lighten the wear and tear on Polamalu playing down low. While Spence is indeed considered a linebacker by the Steelers, his college tape shows him flying around the field like Polamalu does. This is why you have heard me refer to Spence following the draft as a possible “nickelbacker” type.

As far as “Dime” defense possibilities go this year, the Steelers did allow Gay to walk via free agency and now Lewis and Allen will battle to see who starts outside opposite Taylor. Your fourth cornerback on the field in “Dime” situations this year, assuming he doesn\’t win the starting nickel cornerback job, will be Curtis Brown. Although Brown did not receive any snaps on defense last year, we did get to see what type of tackler he was on special teams, where he will continue to contribute in 2012. A few of the Pittsburgh media have also noted how he stuck out during the first OTA session last week. Even though it was just football in shorts, it is worth noting.

So while Kirwan notes that a few teams still are working on ways to combat the offenses that feature the hybrid tight ends, LeBeau has been on it for a while now. Not only does he have a “Big Nickel” at his disposal, but a young “Dime” version as well.

  • Clejpe

    Is Myron Rolle a candidate for the Big Nickel?

  • Namewithheld

    Everytime you see someone talk about how The game has passed by DL remember articles like this.

  • SteelerDave

    I agree that Polamalu is an ideal big nickle player and that Spence has the build and instincts from tape to become the same type of player. However, fact remains that Mundy is not and that both Troy and Clark are aging and their skills will slowly diminish in the seasons ahead. I see 2014 or 2015 as Troys last year and it could also be Clarks last season. It is imperative, in my view that we draft a SS or FS in the first or second round next season, preferably 1st round if the elite ones are available or can be traded up to acquire. We also face Harrison becoming older and will at some point need to look for his eventual replacement.

  • It would be nice if Myron Rolle performs well enough in camp, to make the final roster. At 6’2″ and 219 lbs, he definitely fits the “Big nickle” mold.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I look forward to seeing how Spence fits into our defense. Lots of options to move him around.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Look up TJ McDonald. Right now he is my leader for our #1 pick overall. I see him more replacing Clark than Troy, but I think he looks promising.

  • Cols714

    Myron Rolle might not even make the team, let alone play a big role this year.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    Let me also…

    Other names to watch IMO, Tony Jefferson and Eric Reid. They both might also be options for us at the S position.

  • dgh57

    Why have you given up on Myron Rolle?!! He hasn’t even played 1 down for the Steelers and you’re already counting him out!

    Obviously, the Steelers think otherwise or they wouldn’t of signed him.

  • SteelerDave

    At FS the two to watch are definitely Eric Reid and T.J. McDonald and Robert Lester could move up to round one with a great season. They will all likely be taken in round one before the first true SS is taken as SS is a weaker class next draft. The only two SS worthy of round two are likely Ray Ray Armstrong and Kenny Vaccaro though if Armstrong has a strong enough season and good combine he may move into second half of round one.

    Out of those five players I really like Eric Reid but he would almost certainly require trading up to select. T.J. McDonald might be within range for us though also may take a trade to acquire.

    I’d settle for Armstrong or Lester in round two if we cannot land either Reid or McDonald in round one.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I think that is what we said this year about DeCastro….

  • Jprankster2005

    Good Article………..

  • Jprankster2005

    I agree, I’m pulling for 2 guys to make the team that probably are a long shot and the first one is Rolle…… And the other probably has a better shot in Will Johnson……Also would like to see troy smith 3rd QB

  • SteelerDave

    I think Will Johnson will make the team, way more upside than David.

    I am also rooting for Troy Smith to end the love affair with Leftwich. I give Smith a 50/50 chance.

    Rolle is definitely a classy human being and I hope he makes the team but severely doubt he will do so.